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$10 million. What does $10 million buy?

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

Before I answer that question, I want to back up. In 2012 and 2013, a group of very thoughtful people–Dr. Tina Castañares, Dr. Kristen Dillon, Mark Thomas, and Maija Yasui, among others–had become frustrated with the number of grant opportunities passing by the Gorge community without us even stepping up to the plate to take a swing. So, they did what we typically do in the Gorge, they concocted an entirely untried and innovative idea. They thought it would be a good idea to hire a ‘community’ grantwriter.

They invited me into the conversation and together we designed a position to stay abreast of local needs, track grant opportunities, and pull local partners together to submit collaborative applications when those opportunities arose. More specifically, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital (thanks to then-CEO Ed Freysinger and current CEO Jeanie Viera) committed – and still commit – Community Benefit funds to support a position to write grant applications on behalf of collaborations of community partners – not Providence – at no cost to the agencies. It was brilliant in its simplicity. Mark Thomas added the final touch, naming the position Collective Impact Health Specialist (CIHS).

Fast forward to June 2019… As the CIHS, I received an email saying that a local, collaborative idea had been awarded a multi-year, $450,000+ grant from OHSU, Oregon Health Policy Board, and Oregon Health Authority. And, just like that, the innovative idea for a community grantwriter that began in 2013 rolled over $10 million in grants for the community.

The program that put us over the top – Valle Verde: Mental Health Awareness Training – is an excellent example of how the CIHS role was intended to work. It’s a multi-partner, cross-sector, collaborative idea; it meets one of our most significant community-identified needs; and without the CIHS role (not me personally, but the role), we may never even have stepped up to the plate to take a swing.

As CIHS, I knew of the multi-partner conversations around improving mental/behavioral health services for Latino community members led by The Next Door. I was able to research the funding opportunity when it came out, and because none of the partners had the capacity to coordinate and complete the application by themselves, I filled that need. So, after many conversations and many drafts, we submitted an application (with minutes to spare!) that ultimately, put us over the top of $10 million.

The amount of grant funds this CIHS idea has secured over the past five years captures people’s attention, so does the 40+ collaborative programs designed to address community-identified needs; so does 100+ trained CHWs (the most CHWs per capita in the country); so does 30+ FTE jobs; and, so does a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize, among other successes. All of these achievements are awesome, but what do they really represent?

They represent this community’s willingness to take risks and do things differently. They reflect efforts to build trust, strengthen relationships, accept a common understanding of the community’s needs and, amplify the voices of those community members who traditionally have been kept out of the conversation. Along the way, individuals, organizations, and the community itself have increased their capacity to make individuals and our community healthier.

Not surprisingly, the folks who hatched this big, innovative idea were right: with the right tools, not only can this community step up to the plate and take some swings, but we can hit some home runs.

So, what does $10 million buy? For me, it buys a toolbox full of tools that help us get healthier.

The only question I see now is what are we going to swing for next?

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